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Erika Ayers Badan: Best Years at Barstool Sports Were Not After The PENN Acquisition

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Erika Ayers Badan
Courtesy: Dina Avila for the New York Post

When Erika Ayers Badan joined Barstool Sports as the company’s first chief executive officer in July 2016, she was entering a flourishing operation and helped to actualize more of its potential. Ayers Badan had previously served as president and chief revenue officer of Bkstg and immediately noticed distinct aspects of the Barstool Sports business once she started on the job. In fact, she was doing work for the company from the start of the interview process, assimilating into the environment and sentiment among employees. Ayers Badan remained at Barstool Sports until this past January when she left the company and joined Food52 as its new chief executive officer a few months later.

On the day Ayers Badan was hired by Barstool Sports, Ayers Badan remembers watching the Barstool Rundown broadcasting live from founder Dave Portnoy’s apartment. After the show guest made several racial slurs live on the air, she remembers questioning what she was walking into working for the company. During a recent appearance on The Colin Cowherd Podcast, Ayers Badan discussed her early years with Barstool Sports and how she stabilized parts of the venture, including determining which people were employees of the company.

“Dave wasn’t exactly sure who was on the payroll or not,” Ayers Badan said. “It was a lot of like – there were a lot of guys in Boston with Barstool J.J. and Barstool ‘insert first name here,’ and they seemed like they worked for Barstool, [but] they didn’t work for Barstool. Dave wasn’t clear if they paid them or not, so there was a lot of like, ‘Who is this person and do they actually work here?’”

In her time as a new employee when the company was smaller, Ayers Badan became cognizant of the tightrope that Barstool Sports was walking with its content. Portnoy, along with other personalities such as Dan “Big Cat” Katz and Kevin “KFC” Clancy, are people that Ayers Badan described as being affable but also shrewd. Staggering the line of comedy through their content was part of the role she found difficult amid trying to perform her role and position the company for sustained success.

“I had worked at startups and at big companies,” Ayers Badan explained. “Barstool was just very, and still is, very alive in that it was real time. It was building a company [in] real time in the public eye.”

Aside from hosting his eponymous podcast and television program, The Herd, Cowherd is an entrepreneur and operates The Volume, a digital sports media brand with various content offerings. Amid his conversation with Ayers Badan, he recalled a story of befriending Nike founder Phil Knight while working in Oregon and remembers his opening manifesto when the company began. Cowherd has recently spoken to his staff at The Volume about one of these points, which is “It won’t be pretty,” which remains true and has been something he has experienced in business.

“That’s something I think as younger people tend to be a tad more fragile and easily offended, I’ve talked to some people and said, ‘I’m not sure you’re a good fit for my company,’” Cowherd said. “I view fragile as a weakness and relentless as the ultimate strength; that we all step in shit and you’ve got to get over it fast and don’t let one interception become two and one bad day become a week.”

Ayers Badan concurred with this point and described it as encapsulating the essence of her forthcoming book, “Nobody Cares About Your Career: Why Failure Is Good, the Great Ones Play Hurt, and Other Hard Truths,” which is set to be released on Tuesday, June 11. Careers, she elucidated, are built over several mundane and ugly days with many mistakes, and there is a fundamental nature of understanding how to fail and overcome it.

“What was brilliant about Barstool was that it was always trying to understand the line, and that’s what made it so interesting and so alive and so captivating to fans, but also so difficult on the business where I always had to have multiple lines of revenue because I didn’t know,” Ayers Badan said. “Tuesday afternoon, we could be offending an advertiser; we could have said something that’s flaring up in the New York Post. I never knew what was going to happen, so safety and calm could come from having multiple levers to keep payroll going and the business happening.”

Through the process of audience adoption, which comes from having a message, attracting and retaining listeners and then having them advocate on behalf of the entity, she believes there is burgeoning pent-up demand that is extremely palpable in scope. Over the years, Barstool Sports has cultivated brand equity partly through its personalities and the relationship with the audience.

“I am a highly impatient person, but if you put talent on a platform or create content for a platform, and it gets traction, you’ve got to get – the longer you do that, the more you let that marinate, the further you explore with it – I will wait weeks, months,” Ayers Badan said. “I would wait years because the reality is the more audience you grow – and if you find, you’ve got to.”

Conversely, some companies eventually choose to sell for lucrative profit, including Barstool Sports when it completed a transaction that gave PENN Entertainment full ownership of the entity over two deals worth $551 million. Portnoy purchased the company back from PENN Entertainment last summer for $1 as it prepared to enter a deal with The Walt Disney Company and rebrand its sportsbook to ESPN BET. Ayers Badan believes that once entities secure fiscal windfall in this manner, it can cause them to become more indolent.

“The best years at Barstool, I think, were probably the earliest years, and then they were the beginning of my years because it was such a grind,” Ayers Badan said. “We didn’t know if we would make it; we still had so much road to climb. The best years were not after the PENN acquisition, so I think getting the bag also comes with responsibilities and changes things, and that’s hard for a mission-driven, passion-driven brand.”

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Kevin Kelly, Former AEW Announcer, Says He Is Suing the Company

Kelly started with AEW in June of 2023 and was let go in March.

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Graphic for Wise Choices with Eric Bischoff and a screengrab of Kevin Kelly on AEW

Former AEW announcer Kevin Kelly said he is suing All Elite Wrestling over his departure from the company three months ago. Kelly was apparently let go due to several social media posts about why he had not been used more by the company. Kelly also accused fellow AEW announcer Ian Riccaboni of trying to sabotage his career and committing libel against him.

Kelly was a guest of Eric Bischoff on Wise Choices, a second weekly podcast Bischoff puts out in addition to his long-running podcast 83 Weeks.

Kelly told Bischoff that he was struggling mentally due to the situation with Riccaboni and was seeing a psychiatrist provided by the company. He said he was extremely unhappy and took his thoughts to social media and then left an angry message for an HR staffer.

“I went off,” Kelly said about the message he left.

After explaining more of what went on, Bischoff asked, “So what are you going to do? You suing them?”

“Yeah, of course,” Kelly answered. “You have to.”

Kelly, whose real name is Kevin Foote, worked for WWE from 1996-2003 and also worked for Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling prior to his time at AEW. Kelly started with AEW in June of 2023 and was let go in March.

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Jake Marsh Leaving Barstool Sports to Pursue Play-by-Play Opportunities

“I hope one day you are calling a Super Bowl that we are watching and losing bets on…and then blaming you for losing the bets.”

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Logo for Barstool Sports and a photo of Jake Marsh, Dave Portnoy and Dan 'Big Cat' Katz
Photo Courtesy: Barstool Sports (L-R Jake Marsh, Dave Portnoy, Dan 'Big Cat' Katz)

After five years with Barstool Sports, Jake Marsh announced that today was his last episode on Pardon My Take. Marsh said that now is the right time to pursue his dream of being a national network play-by-play broadcaster.

“I’m here to make an announcement,” Marsh said to Dan ‘Big Cat’ Katz and PFT Commenter. “It’s an announcement that was inevitable at some point. After talking with you guys, now makes the most sense. The fact of the matter is this is going to be my last episode on Pardon My Take.”

Big Cat and PFT Commenter said this is something they have been talking about for four or five months, not something Marsh just decided on a whim. “We love having you on the show Jake, you’re a big part of the Pardon My Take story,” PFT Commenter said. “We are very glad you are a part of the story. Me and Big Cat have always said, one day you’re going to go try to do live broadcasts and we are going to wish you the best and we are going to be firmly in your corner. And that is very, very true to this day. I wish you the best career possible. I hope one day you are calling a Super Bowl that we are watching and losing bets on…and then blaming you for losing the bets.”

Marsh explained the reasoning behind his departure. “One of the biggest dominos for this happening right now is the direction Barstool is going in, live broadcasting rights are no longer a priority for this company,” he said. “…And obviously that was my bread and butter here. That’s where I thrive the most. I am so fortunate I got to call multiple bowl games on national television, college basketball, hockey, professional golf.”

Marsh, hired as an intern five years ago, added, “I never thought any of that was remotely possible.”

Marsh said when he started, somebody at Barstool asked him where he sees himself in five to ten years. “Without hesitation I said, ‘I want to be a national network play-by-play broadcaster.’ That brings us to now and that is what I am going all in on.”

Marsh said he is proud of what he has accomplished in his five years with the company. “I have accomplished a lot, thanks to you guys.”

Marsh posted a message to the Barstool community on the website and said, “I’m looking for someone to give me a chance in this business in the booth, just like Pardon My Take gave me a shot five years ago. And I know the first step to making that happen is showing my full availability and flexibility to call games.” 

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Stephen A. Smith: Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson ‘Were Truly an A-Team’

“They were an illustrious tag team that the basketball world enjoyed for more than a decade.”

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Stephen A. Smith
Courtesy: Evan Angelastro, GQ

Jeff Van Gundy, former NBA head coach and television analyst for ESPN, has agreed to a deal to become the lead assistant coach for the LA Clippers, according to a report by ESPN senior NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski. Van Gundy worked as a consultant for the Boston Celtics this past season, which recently culminated in the 18th title in the history of the organization.

Prior to that time, he worked alongside play-by-play announcer Mike Breen and analyst Mark Jackson as part of the lead broadcasting team for the NBA on ESPN, forming a trio that called 15 NBA Finals together. Stephen A. Smith, the featured commentator and executive producer of First Take and analyst on NBA Countdown, recently discussed the reports of Van Gundy joining the Clippers’ coaching staff on his podcast, The Stephen A. Smith Show.

Smith conveyed that he thought Van Gundy may receive an interview for the head coaching role with the Los Angeles Lakers, but that changed upon the report of him joining the Clippers. Van Gundy was laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures at the network, and Jackson was let go by the network one month later. In a statement last year, ESPN expressed that these decisions were difficult and “based more on overall efficiency than merit,” but would help the company meet its “financial targets and ensure future growth.”

Smith spoke on his relationship with his former colleagues and prefaced his remarks by saying he was not throwing any shade on Mike Breen, Doris Burke and JJ Redick, the new lead broadcasting team for the network that recently called the 2024 NBA Finals.

“This is not about anything like that,” Smith said. “This is about the fact that Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were truly an A-team. They were exceptional at their jobs, they were riveting in a lot of ways. They were an illustrious tag team that the basketball world enjoyed for more than a decade.”

During his remarks, Smith expressed that Van Gundy and his brother Stan were good people and also sent his heartfelt condolences to the family upon learning that Stan Van Gundy’s wife passed away as a result of suicide. Stan Van Gundy recently spoke about the loss on an episode of South Beach Sessions with Meadowlark Media co-founder and host Dan Le Batard. Smith then continued to speak on Jeff Van Gundy by expressing that he deserves to do what he wants in the game of basketball.

“I respect the hell out of Jeff and I’m very fond of him, but there’s one thing that we all have to understand, and nobody speaks about this because everybody talks about stuff as unfair and, ‘He got let go,’” Smith explained. “In the world of business, when cuts take place, cuts take place. There’s hundreds of people who lost their jobs, and it wasn’t just at ESPN or at Disney. Have you seen what happened at Meta? Have you seen what has happened in places like Apple and Amazon and other places?”

Although Smith expressed that he is not saying job cuts are right and instead called them “downright cruel,” he questioned when the world of business has been known to be anything otherwise. Smith was sad to see Van Gundy and Jackson leave the network, but he shared that he is not concerned about them recovering because of their reputations and the opportunities that will come in their direction. Moreover, he expressed that it would not be as easy for other people, articulating that it would be more daunting for them to find their footing if they were to lose their roles.

“I work with special people with my day job at ESPN, but nothing’s guaranteed,” Smith said. “Nobody is safe. That includes me, and I’m speaking from experience. Remember, I got fired in 2009. Take nothing for granted in the world of business ladies and gentlemen. No one’s ever safe in this day and age. Numbers make calls, not just people. Numbers dictate a lot.”

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